I’ll never forget how it felt to stand outside the doors of my elementary school. The first day it was like walking towards the edge of the cliff; my heart pounded against my rib cage so hard my ears would ring, my hands shaking so badly I wished I had no hands. All the while my feet carried me closer and closer to my doom. Those twelve feet from my mother’s black Honda to those bright red doors could have easily matched the march to Calvary. I would look back at my mother hoping she could see my trembling hands or hear my screaming heart. I needed her to know how scared I was, how badly I didn’t want to go through those doors… But she didn’t and so I marched on. How was she supposed to know that everyone hated me? That I had no friends and school brought me no joy.
I thought they were just like me, the kids I went to school with, but for some reason they didn’t see it that way. Maybe it was because when I walked through the halls my head looked over all of theirs. Or maybe it was because my accent was too thick, or my skin was too dark. Either way, I was different to them, and when you’re considered different all you want is to be like everyone else. So I had no choice but to lie.
There were some kids everyone knew to avoid and then there were those everyone gravitated to, like Anna-Beth. Her bright blue eyes, Shirley Temple styled hair made her, at age ten, the respective queen of our school. She was so nice to everyone so I’m not sure what possessed her to grab those scissors during our world history class and snip off my ponytail. All I knew was that my first reaction, after crying, was to lie. I lied to our teacher and told her I asked Anna-Beth to cut my hair. I lied to my parents and said I did it to myself. It was part of the larger lie I was telling myself.
“It will get better.” I would say often.
But most days went just like today. I would walk into my bright blue and green classroom walk to the largest desk in the back corner and just wait. Anna-Beth walked in with her pretty bows in her hair and like always pushed our teacher’s pencils, papers off her desk while our teach stood at the door.
“Look what you did Judy!” Anna-Beth would yell before running to her desk. I without even thinking about it reached down gathered all up as they laughed.
Throughout most of elementary school Anna-Beth and her friends made it their personal mission to tear me down and each and every time I covered for them. I helped them with their homework, I gave them my lunch, I even hung out with them on the playground. All with the hope they would notice me and maybe become my friends. At that time both of my parents were working around the clock. The only evidence I had that they were ever home was the five left on the dinner table every day. The very few times we met in the shoe box sized apartment we lived in our conversations were short; asking the same universal question all parents asked.
“How was school?”
Staring at my shoes from the other side of my bedroom door I gave them the universal answer.
When I lied they believed me and that was that. My days were spent on false smiles and fake laughter and my nights spent under layers of sheets with pillows around me to muffle the sound of my sobs…often I couldn’t breathe. I enjoyed those times because it meant I could finally close my eyes. I wished I could close my eyes forever, but at 6am sharp the ringing would pull me out of bed to start the day all over again.
Fake mornings, tearful evenings, fake mornings, tearful evenings, it felt never ending. It started with cutting off my ponytail, graduated to dirt in my lunches, dodge-balls to the head, and if they were feeling particularly cruel they would call me Godzilla. It’s how they welcomed me everywhere.
“Godzilla, run!” Anna-Beth would yell and her minions would run, across the classroom for the furthest desk forcing frowns on all the kids who had to sit near me.
They took the back seats so they could whisper behind me without our teacher seeing, though I doubt she really cared.
“Godzilla, move your fat head.”“Godzilla, you think you’re so smart.”“What gives birth to a Godzilla?” My head was so full what they were saying that I couldn’t hear our teacher. I went from making straight ‘A’s to struggling to get ‘C’s. It was partially because I didn’t want to be made fun for always raising my hand and partially because I just didn’t care anymore. What was math to a Godzilla? I would give anything to just make them stop.
I prayed. I begged. I cried and I think God listened because one day I woke and it was time for middle school. Anna-Beth was gone, moved somewhere far enough away from me, thankfully. I wish more students had left but our small elementary school was also connected to an equally small middle school leaving her minions to torment me. There was a new student in particular everyone couldn’t stop talking about; Dillon Williams. He was as thin as a flag pole and shook as though he couldn’t control himself. Often times he had his hands in his mouth. Once he came no one noticed me. No one called me Godzilla or anything else the moment their targets locked in on him. For the first time in a long time that walk from my mother’s Mercedes those same red doors didn’t feel so long.
Gone were my fake mornings and tearful evenings. I was free of them and once I had tasted that freedom I couldn’t go back. I watched silently as they put the dirt in his food, pushed him down hills and threw dodge-balls in his face. I stayed as far away from him as I possibly could to protect myself.
‘Better him than me.’ I thought.
So during art class that wet November, Monday morning I looked the other way, minding my business, as I painted the dark clouds alone as everyone spoke among themselves. All he had to do was pay attention. But instead he had his headphones on and walked right into me, pouring red paint all over my clothes, face, and hair. It was so silent you could hear the bees humming outside the window as everyone just watched. I stood there dripping in red as people began to laugh. I had fought that laughter for years!
His eyes went wide as he watched the red drip off of me;
“I’m so sorry,”He said.
I morphed and channeled my inner Anna-Beth; “You retard! What is wrong with you? I was obviously standing here. How did you miss me? Jeez. Maybe if you took your hands out of your mouth every once in awhile and opened your eyes people would actually like you.”
He froze for only a second before he took off with the wind.
“Miss Onyegbado, meet me after school! Nobody move!” my teacher yelled before going to look for Dillon.
One of the minions that used to belong to Anna-Beth came over to me with tissues and helped me out of my apron.
“He’s such a freak right?” she asked me. I wasn’t used to them being nice to me but I liked it.
“A total freak. The king of freaks.” I laughed wiping my face. It was just a simple slip of the tongue but it caught on like bad techno music you couldn’t help but bob your head to.
For the rest of the year that was Dillon’s new nickname, the king of freaks. Whenever he walked into a room we would all yell, “All hail the king of the freaks.” before sitting as far away from him as possible.
And that’s what started it. That’s how I got my new friends and to me life was good. My grades were decent and I wasn’t alone. For the first time life at school was good so good it flew by faster then I could imagine. Seventh grade was almost over and I couldn’t wait for Eight-grade. On the last of Seventh grade I found myself just thinking alone in my classroom as everyone signed yearbooks in the hall. I just wanted a moment of silence but instead I heard sobs ring out through the room. Confused, I followed them like a bug, to a bug zapper and just like any bug it hurt when I reached the source. There was The King Of Freaks hunched over in the darkest corner of the empty closet crying his soul out. I could never forget the sight of snot and tears that covered his whole face and arms.
His must have heard me walking towards him because his head popped up and when he saw me he just ran. He ran like Forrest Gump and even when he tripped over the chair he still picked himself up. It was then that I realized who I what I did to him.
Maybe it was because I was getting older or maybe it was because I just didn’t like being on the same level as Anna-Beth, but either way I needed to change. Over that summer I did everything possible to find Dillon. I was only a hair away from putting up Bullied Boy Lost signs. Between searching for him I was also searching for myself. I found myself going to church more, and actually paying attention in youth group. I wasn’t going through a mass conversion but I was figuring that the person I was becoming was not the type of person I liked. That in of itself was enough.
So when I went back through the red doors eight-grade year, I was prepared. I waited for Dillon just so I could tell him how truly sorry I was and how I hoped we could be friends. My eyes locked in on those doors and I waited as familiar face strutted through the doors in their brand new clothes…. But Dillon never came and I never got to apologize him that year. It was difficult trying to remake myself for the third time.
“Look at what she’s wearing. I can’t believe it.” My friends would start, trying to find new victims that fall.
Glancing up at the girl dressed head to toe in stripped clothing I shook my head.
“She looks fine. Leave her alone.” I told them choosing instead to go sit with her.
You would think they would take the hit but they didn’t. The following day they tried again to pull me back.
“I hate Mrs. Allen, she such an old hag. Did you hear her husband left her? I can see why?” They laughed. Slamming my locker closed I turned back to them.
“Do you guys even realize what your saying? How much it actually hurts? Your bullies.” I was so tired of them.
“Well look who found her high horse.” And with that I lost friends that year but I did get part of my dignity back.
I did my best to stand up for the new kids on the chopping block, which put me right back on it, but accepted and tried to move on. Their words couldn’t hurt anymore and I was no longer that ten-year-old who so badly wanted a friend. Instead I was just me and I wanted people to like me because I was nice. It was because of Dillon that when I now look at someone siting alone and hoping someone would talk to them; I try to be that person. I hope to make people laugh not because I made fun of others but because they are comfortable around me.
It took me years but I finally found Dillon through facebook and he agreed to meet me at the park near our old school. Waiting on that green bench as all the younger kids now attending my old school made me shake. The winds blew the fall leaves through the air when he came up too me.
“Dillon?” Gone was the flagpole I remembered and in his place was a taller stronger looking.
“You look different…. Good different though.” He smiled taking a seat beside me.
“Thank and so do you. Thank you for coming Dillon, there is so much I wanted to say but I’m jut going to say I’m sorry.”
That sunny fall afternoon we talked, we laughed, and I know he wouldn’t admit but we cried. We closed the door on Godzilla and the King of Freaks because we weren’t those people; we never were.
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